How to spot damage and fix broken fence panels

A rotten fence doesn't have to mean a broken garden dream – simply get it fixed.

Wooden fences and posts eventually rot or even snap in strong winds. And if your panels are sagging, slumping or are a holey disgrace then it's easy to sort.

Checking for damage

Fence-fit check ups

Make checking your fences a part of your weekly gardening routine. A quick waggle of the posts and visual inspection of the panels will spot trouble before it becomes a bigger job. After all, a 6x6 panel strewn on your herbaceous plants will cause a lot of damage. A referee’s assistant always checks the goalposts before a game starts so get into the habit of checking your own boundaries. Slats on many fences do pop out and if spotted early, are simply eased back into their original position. Wood does move according to the moisture content and temperature, so a quick check is a great habit to get into.

Signs of decay

Posts that move too freely in the soil or on concrete slabs are likely to be rotten. This can occur at ground level or even beneath the soil. This is where the wood is in constant contact with moisture and where that all important guarantee against rot works hardest (15 year guarantee against rot if the posts are pressure treated – accept nothing less for your posts) Individual slats on some panels may contain knots in the wood, and they can fall out when exposed to the weather. It's not too disturbing (unless you don't want the neighbours peeping through!) but it can be the start of larger patches of rot. The final visual check is the overall colour and state of the panels. Heavy algae populations indicate a wet environment and can look unsightly. All problems can be sorted.

Fixing your fence

30 minute fixes

A wash down with soapy water can remove algae and general griminess on panels. A pressure washer will really clean everything off in readiness for re treatment,  but turn the pressure down and go easy to avoid blasting the panels into next door. Once prepared a few panels can be re treated using the slower and steadier method of preservative and brush, or the quicker spray on tan style of application. It's a good time to refresh the total colour schemes using some of the trendy coloured preservatives and stains available from every garden retailer.  If one slat on a panel has been damaged it can easily be replaced. Carefully ease out the offending slat, take care to remove any remaining nails and replace with a newly bought, carefully slid in, factory fresh version. Obviously the new colour will stand out like a sore thumb, so colour the whole lot to create a uniform look. One quick check to help prevent trouble down the line is to ensure post caps are fitted to every post. They help dispel water away from the top cut end of posts, and therefore reduce rotting. They also make the fence look great.

One hour specials

If a post has rotted at ground level, and everything else seems sound, get a post repair kit. This comprises of a metal spike or anchor (depending on whether the post is sunk into the soil or bolted onto concrete) available from most garden retailers. Carefully detach the fence panel and put to one side; cut off the top part of the rotted post; sink or bolt in the bracket and slot a new post into that. Tighten it all up, offer up and secure our existing panel and hey presto- everyone happy and you won't have sleepless nights next time gale force winds are forecast.

Calm, clear and companions

If all else fails and a panel needs replacing, then don't rush the job. Take any dangerous panels down and then get yourself the right tools (spirit level, spade, relevant nails, screws (and panels!), hammer) and a friend. It is so much easier to have someone holding one end of a panel as you adjust the other. And take your time. Choose a calm day, clear day and always aim to have the job finished before it gets dark. It's better not to put a panel up at all rather than have one half hanging over night. Once a post is fixed and set, fix the panel to it and then work along a line – post, panel, post, panel. Even the most precise of tape measure operatives will get distances slightly wrong making the old mistake of putting all the posts up at once and then expecting panels to fit in between exactly that – a problem. And remember, panels can be slightly different sizes (wood is after all a natural material) so don't get caught out. Quality panels, the correct tools, a calm companion and a clear day – and an hour per panel will create a magnificent fence.

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